Footsteps Of The Father -- Billy Graham Crusade Here Pulls Son Ned Into View

AUBURN - Ned Graham may look and sound like his father but don't expect him to follow in those famous footsteps.

``There is no second Billy Graham,'' said Nelson ``Ned Graham.'' And it's certainly not me.''

Though shunning the notion of heir apparent, Graham has followed his father into Christian ministry and is the pastor of adult education at the Bible Baptist Church here. He has kept his family ties quiet by choice, wanting people to know him as Ned before they judge him as Billy's son.

Yet, with his father coming to Tacoma and Seattle early next month to stage his final crusade in the area, Graham, 33, reluctantly agreed to talk publicly to promote the event.

``I knew what the crusade would mean for me,'' Graham said in an interview last week in his church office. ``Though it's a tremendous opportunity for the Pacific Northwest, I knew I would have to sacrifice some of my anonymity.''

Still, Graham doesn't allow any recognizable photographs to be taken. ``After the crusade is gone,'' he said, ``I want to live here the rest of my life.'' Graham and his wife, Carol, a nurse at a local hospital, have two young sons and live south of Auburn.

The similarities between father and son are unmistakable: the penetrating eyes, the lanky physique, the friendly smile, the soft North Carolina drawl. Graham says he and his father also share personality traits; both are introverted, intuitive thinkers.

``He looks like his dad,'' said Dan Lloyd, a friend of Graham's and pastor at the SeaTac Bible Church. ``He's a little Billy Graham.''

However, the hunger to preach didn't get passed down to Ned Graham. He laughed at the recollection of his first sermon, given almost four years ago during an internship at the church.

``It was the most frightening experience of my life,'' said Graham. ``My knees were shaking so hard . . . I didn't know where the next word would come from. Sometimes it's a long way from your brain to your mouth.''

Graham has had plenty of exposure to preaching over the years. He estimates he has attended 40 of his father's crusades, and says he went forward at age 12 to declare his commitment to Christ during a crusade.

He says his talents are not necessarily in preaching but in helping church leaders to develop, and in other ministries like teaching.

``There's not a drive within me to preach,'' Graham said. ``It's not something I need to do,'' though he preaches up to 20 times a year at his church.

As the youngest of Ruth and Billy Graham's five children, Ned Graham was born when his father was already well established as the nation's most renowned evangelist. Being the youngest by six years - he calls himself the ``oops baby'' - Graham got to travel often with his parents to crusades.

Still, when it came time to settle down, Graham chose to move across the U.S. from his parents and siblings. He and his wife, whom he met in Minnesota, discovered Seattle during a vacation and were drawn by mountains (he's a former rock-climbing instructor) and the beauty of the area.

After completing his bachelor's degree in 1985 at Pacific Lutheran University, Graham said, he ``felt God tugging me into ministry but at first I didn't want to go. It was like a cocker spaniel being dragged across a linoleum floor.''

Graham still is one class short of finishing seminary but says he's too busy with his church duties and other ministries to worry right now about being ordained. ``I'm Ned. I'm not a reverend,'' he said.

He said he and his father have talked often about the lack of church membership in the Pacific Northwest. ``There's a real need here for spiritual renewal,'' said Graham.

According to the 1990 U.S. Statistical Abstract, 30.9 percent of Washington's population are regular Christian church-goers, far lower than the national average of 49.3 percent and higher than only Alaska and Nevada.

Though Graham won't take credit for persuading his father to bring his crusade for a fifth time to Washington state, friend Dan Lloyd said he's just being modest.

``The one thing that influenced Billy Graham the most to come here is his son,'' said Lloyd, a former pastor at the Bible Baptist Church. ``Ned Graham spelled out the condition of the spiritual climate here for his dad, and convinced him of the need for a crusade.''

Graham said he's looking forward to spending time with his parents, both of whom will travel here the first week of April. And he expects to be in the Tacoma Dome and Kingdome the four nights of the crusade, helping out as he can.

``I have the unique position of being Dad's son,'' he said. ``There's no pressure from him, other than his desire that I remain committed to the Lord.''